Looking Your Best on Video Calls / Tips from Pro Portrait Photographer – Doug Gifford

May 17, 2020  •  1 Comment

Doug Gifford - Your Video Call "Image Doctor" 2020Doug Gifford - Your Video Call "Image Doctor" 2020


Like it or not, we have all become remote correspondents logging reports from the front lines - in our home offices. Just like the network news, some are better at it than others.

As a professional commercial portrait photographer for 39 years, I have built hundreds of sets and used hundreds of more natural light locations to create the environments to capture the perfect images or videos for each client.

Once the subject is “camera-ready” on set in front of the camera’s viewfinder, my well-trained eye can see what works and what doesn’t and quickly make the appropriate adjustments to the subject’s appearance, background, lights, camera, and with video - sound.

After being a part of many video calls of late, I found myself wanting to reach out to the people on the call and offer a few easy-to-make adjustments from what I could see in my “viewfinder” to help them enhance what their viewers were seeing. 

Since that wasn’t possible at the moment, here are some pro-tips I would have shared that you can try yourself to more accurately reflect your personal or business brand for your next video call.   



For better or for worse on video calls, the people on the call with you will have lots of time to look at your appearance.  Remember to always do your basic personal grooming and dress simply as you would for work or play from head to toe.

  • Groom/style your hair.
  • Check your smile to prevent lipstick or food from being an on-camera surprise.
  • A clean-shaven face or groomed facial hair is best.
  • Apply make-up and/or a little face powder (keeps the shine down and works for men and women). 
  • Clean your eyeglasses if you wear them.  If you are able to wear contacts, do.
  • Consider a privacy screen if your eyeglasses reflect what’s on your computer screen.
  • Wear clothing that matches the professional or casual look you want – from head to toe (prevents embarrassment should you need to stand up or move).
  • Usually best to wear plain, solid, mid-tone colors.
  • Avoid black, white, busy patterns, stripes, and too-bright plaids or colors. They make it hard on the webcams white balance.  
  • Avoid finely patterned, or very narrow-striped clothing due to moire' patterns that look like they're vibrating or crawling.
  • Avoid logos, unless it is your business logo.
  • Simple jewelry or none at all is usually best.
  • Avoid earrings that dangle or other accessories that make noise when you move.
  • If you’d like referrals to brand/image consultants or hair, make-up, and clothing stylists, let me know.

Check your appearance using your camera one last time before you go “live.” 



Everything that is in the background is a part of the story you are telling to your “viewers.”  The elements that comprise your background should be intentionally arranged to allow the focus to still be on you. 

  • Make sure the background is uncluttered and professional and contributes to your story. Less is usually more.
  • Check so that items on bookshelves or on the wall directly behind your head are not too distracting nor end up “growing” out of your head.
  • Look for anything else in the room within the camera’s view that can make you look unprofessional - clutter, clothes, piles of boxes, food, or beverages.
  • Virtual backgrounds are fun and… maybe not the best option for business calls - unless they support your brand or your video call message.
  • If you are going to use a step-and-repeat background with your company logo on it, make sure it is a matte, not glossy, material because it will reflect the light shining on you and can be distracting.
  • There are many options today for cloth and paper background screens that can be placed behind your chair - on a stand, against a wall, hung from a ceiling, or that can be folded up and easily stored.  Whatever you choose, simpler is usually better in terms of color, pattern, or textures.     

Sit in your chair and take a selfie or screenshot and see what others see to make sure your set is camera ready.  You can even ask a colleague, friend, or family member to share with you what they notice about your “set” and the story it might be telling them.  Adjust your background as appropriate from the feedback provided.







The best quality of light to use is to face a large, soft, single-color light source.

  • Ideally, use a continuous light source like a ring or small panel light on a stand.  Place your camera at eye level below the ring light or other light source.  These lights usually allow you to adjust the color temperature to match the other light sources in the room such as daylight (window light) or tungsten (lamp light) that you can use anywhere, any time of day.
  • Without another light source during the day, you can sit in front of a large window that doesn’t directly face the sun.
  • If you’re doing most of your video calls during the day (with window light as the main light or additional light source in the room), change the lights in any lamps in the room to daylight temperature bulbs to balance the color temperature or simply turn them off.
  • If you are chatting at night or in a windowless room, you can create a soft big light source by sitting in front of a neutral-colored wall.  Simply point a light at the wall so that the light bounces back at you. Note:  The color on the wall will be the color that bounces back on your face. You can also point the light at a large whiteboard or piece of paper to create a soft light effect.


Lighting Dos:

  • Only use one color temperature of the light as your light source – Daylight (natural) 5000k or Tungsten (artificial) 3000k.
  • Position the main light source (ring light) just above the camera level.
    • If possible, put the main light as far away from you as you can, with a brighter setting, so it will fill the room with light.  Then, when you lean closer to the camera, the exposure change will be less noticeable.  
  • The main light on the subject should be brighter than the background. 

Lighting Don’ts:

  • Don’t have the main light source off to one side too high or too low because that will create distracting shadows on your face.
  • Don’t have another light or light source, like a window, behind you or, especially, overhead.



Although the cameras in computers and phones are pretty good these days, a better choice is to get a separate webcam to look your best. Remember to position your camera at eye level.

Before you “go live:”

  • Show your camera some love by cleaning it - especially the lens - with a soft cloth so your viewers have a clear view of you.
  • Turn on the camera and test it.
  • Make sure no one else is using the same WiFi for streaming during your webcast. Strong bandwidth is crucial to a good looking high res video image and sound.
  • If there is a manual setting for exposure and white balance, choose that. Logitech has a free app for their webcams that provides this feature.
  • If your camera is separate from your computer, be sure it is registered with your Zoom or other software before your first call.
  • Sit up straight in your chair - a lumbar pillow can help, and be present. In other words, try not to move or fidget.
  • If you choose to stand, practice standing still.  Moving is distracting.
  • Adjust your camera position so it is at eye level
    • If the camera is on top of the monitor, adjust your chair height. 
    • If the camera is built-in to your laptop, adjust the height of the computer so that the camera is eye level.
      • Stacked books or boxes work great.
  • Put your face just above the centerline of the screen so you don’t lose focus.
  • Because the camera has a wide wide-angle lens, it will distort your face if you:
    • Sit too close to the screen (so show some of your shoulders and upper body).
    • Look down or up at the lens.
    • Move to one side of the camera or the other.

Once you are on the call:

  • Maintain good eye contact.
    • Look directly into the camera as much as you can.
    • Resist looking at yourself on the screen.
    • Have a pleasant, engaging look.
  • Keep everything you need for the call right in front of you.



Although the microphone in your computer or in your separate webcam is typically good, for the best results, get a desktop microphone or lapel mic.

Before the call:

  • Turn on the microphone. 
    • Clip-on the lapel mic.
    • Test it to see if it is working. 
    • Set the sound levels.
      • If there will be scripted laughter or singing, setting a slightly lower sound will help avoid distortion or clipping. 
  • Avoid using a desk fan that blows across the mic.
  • Let everyone in your home or office know when you are going to be on a call. 
  • Request others who might be nearby to refrain from making loud noises or entering your video call space. 
  • Consider placing a sign or Post-It note that says “Hot Set” or “Do Not Enter – On a Video Call."

Once you are on the call:

  • Sit close enough to the computer for the microphone to pick-up your voice.
  • Mute the microphone when listening.
  • Use headphones or earbuds to hear the sound better.


15-Minute Complimentary Video Call & Feedback

If you want an assist, please send an email to [email protected] with “Close-up” in the subject line to schedule an appointment. Please include some options regarding the days and times that work best for the “Image Doctor” to pay you a virtual visit and I will do what I can to accommodate your schedule or offer alternatives.  I will give you feedback “on the fly” on a video call about what’s working well or what you might want to adapt or adjust to look better on video.  It would be great to see you! 





Steve Fehr(non-registered)
Now that I have become a veteran of video calls, my single biggest observation is that people do not always know how or when to use the mute button. All it takes is one person to spoil a chat by leaving the mic on. One participant in a recent call dialed in to the chat on his phone, put the phone on the car seat, and proceeded to drive for about 30 minutes before realizing the mic was on. In most cases the moderator can mute folks but this does not always happen right away. So to reinforce Doug's tip, get used to the mute button at the outset of your call.
No comments posted.

January February March April (1) May (1) June (1) July August September (1) October November (1) December
January February March (7) April (3) May June (8) July (3) August (1) September October November (13) December (2)
January February (5) March April May June July August September October November December (1)
January February March April May (1) June July August September October November December
January (2) February (8) March (8) April (10) May (5) June (7) July (2) August (3) September October November December